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The art of teaching

PHS teacher marks 25 years of inspiring young artists

Palmyra High School art teacher Michael Budden stands in his classroom next to his portrait of his grandson.

Stephen Finn

The Sun

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Michael Budden has taught art at Palmyra High School for 25 years. In his time at the school he has become a popular teacher among the student body. Underclassmen are told by older students “wait until you get to work with Budden.”

Before his time as a teacher he was an accomplished artist on his own and was able to support himself with the work he was producing.

Budden first realized he had a knack for art at a young age. He grew up in Bordentown and attended the local schools there. He recalls a drawing he made while in elementary school of an alligator that turned out better than he expected.

“I was pretty impressed with it, I remember it looking how I wanted it to look,” said Budden. “That was one of the few times I got any backing from teachers.”

This initial realization, coupled with support from his mother, set the groundwork for his future in art.

As an adult he studied fine arts and art education first at Mercer County and then College of New Jersey, where he eventually earned his degree. An early influence on his work was famed French artist Claude Monet, known for his landscapes. He developed his artistic ability during this time and appreciated the hands-on instruction he received there.

“I try and incorporate that kind of a concept now,” said Budden.

After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in art education, he began his life as a working artist.

“It was incredible, I traveled a lot and was pretty well known as a wildlife artist back in the ’80s and early ‘90s,” said Budden.

Using zoos, nature parks and landscapes for reference material, he would collect photographs and take them back to his studio to figure out the best scene in which to put his chosen subject. Working with the publishing company Northwoods Craftsmen, who specialize in fine art prints, Budden was able to sell his work at their wildlife art galleries before transitioning into more freelance style work under his own name.

In 1993 the sudden death of his father-in-law triggered a major life change for Budden. They were very close and his passing left Budden thinking about the security of his wife and family. He knew he needed something more steady than his freelance work. Having a degree in art education, teaching was a logical step.

“It was something I had to do. It was a need that was stronger than the call of being in the studio by myself at that stage,” said Budden.

Before Palmyra, Budden worked as a substitute teacher in Burlington. In addition to art, Budden has a passion for basketball, which ended up playing a part in bringing him to Palmyra.

While playing ball with some fellow teachers, a colleague informed him that Palmyra was not only looking for an art teacher, but for someone who could help them start a junior high basketball program. Budden fit the bill and was hired shortly after.

As for his teaching style, Budden likes to start with general concepts that most people can handle and might enjoy learning. He uses examples of work by previous students to help give new artists a jumping off point.

Although Budden believes everyone can benefit from an art class, he recognizes that it isn’t for everyone. There are some concepts that can be taught, but there is an added element of natural artistic ability that not everyone possesses.

“Everybody can learn to appreciate art, everybody can learn the concepts and gain a better understanding. Not everyone can create great art,” said Budden.

When he does recognize a student with some natural ability, Budden does everything he can to foster that talent and push the individual.

“By trying to be as positive as possible, trying to push them past any limitations and expand their horizons, pushing them into different mediums,” said Budden.

To see examples of Budden’s work or galleries where his art has been or will be displayed, visit his website at michaelbudden.com.


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